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Proctitis accounts for a significant proportion of cases of ulcerative colitis (UC), and some patients subsequently develop more extensive disease. However, most patients continue to have limited inflammation, although the changes in the distal colon and rectum can occasionally be severe, and symptoms of increased frequency, rectal bleeding and urgency can be as disabling as they are for patients with more extensive colitis. Furthermore, although symptoms are typically well controlled with standard medications, medically refractory proctitis poses particular problems. Patients generally are not systemically unwell, and there is no added fear of cancer. Therefore, the prospect of colectomy for such limited disease is resisted by patients, physicians and surgeons alike. Unusual therapies, often delivered locally by enema or suppository, have been tested in small case series without definitive outcomes. The pathogenesis of such limited, yet intractable inflammation remains unclear, and the differential diagnosis should be carefully reviewed to ensure that local disease, whether it is infectious, vascular, or a result of injury or degeneration, is not overlooked. Ileo-anal pouch formation is the surgery of choice for about 20% of patients with UC who undergo colectomy. In the majority of cases, this surgery results in an acceptable quality of life and freedom from a stoma. However, in a sizeable minority of cases, pouch dysfunction can cause intractable problems. The causes of pouch dysfunction are varied and must all be considered carefully, particularly in refractory cases. Pouchitis is a common issue and is usually transient and easily treated. However, refractory and chronic pouchitis can be challenging. Ischaemia, injury, infection and Crohn's disease can all cause refractory pouch dysfunction. In a minority of cases, there appears to be no apparent organic pathology, and the presumptive diagnosis is that of a functional pouch disorder. Although it is much rarer, neoplastic changes in the pouch must also be considered, and the risk managed appropriately. The management of both intractable proctitis and the problematic pouch is made more challenging by the wide differential diagnosis that must be considered and by the paucity of high-quality clinical trials to support any one therapy. Key strategies to overcoming these limitations include methodical and systematic investigation and review, and a willingness to tailor therapy to the individual patient. Clinical trials of new treatments should be supported, and data from the experience with small cohorts of patients should be meticulously collected, critically analysed and widely disseminated.

Original publication




Journal article


Dig Dis

Publication Date





427 - 437


Humans, Pouchitis, Proctitis